Friday, November 11, 2011

Yad Vashem

This past Sunday (November 6) we all went with out Judaism professor, Ophir Yarden, to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. I don't remember ever having been to an entire museum dedicated to the Holocaust before, so I was really excited (can I use that word?) to go and learn more. It did not disappoint me at all. I thought it was a beautiful and informative museum. The name "yad vashem" means essentially "a name and memorial," which taken from a verse in Isaiah about how God will give his people a name and memorial to always be remembered. It amazed me how many things the museum has acquired over time; the collection was very impressive. One of the displays that I really liked was a collection of diaries, photos, and artwork from a specific ghetto. The young adults at this ghetto felt the changes that were happening to their world, so they decided that they needed to document everything for future generations. They kept diaries and personal accounts, letters, sketches, paintings, photographs, anything that would help tell their story. I was so impressed by the dedication to their cause, and how they made sure that their work was preserved. Some of them put their things in pots and buried them, and others sent them to distant relatives. All I can say is that I'm so thankful for their record keeping, and it has definitely inspired me to be better about my own journaling (I know the fruits of my labor haven't been seen quite as much on this blog... but it's a process). Yad Vashem focuses a lot on personal accounts and vignettes, which helped me better relate to the victims and not just see them as a collective whole. One of these vignettes was about a Jewish engineer who did photography as a hobby, nothing too serious. But when he began to see the effects of the Nazi rule, he felt it was his mission to photograph and record the experiences of his people. He would carry his camera hidden in his coat and secretly take pictures of the Jewish people and German soldiers, even though he would have been killed if he was caught. Stories like this are so inspiring to me because they show how many faces of heroism there are, and how each is needed in this world. The museum also had a display of "the righteous among the nations," meaning the non-Jews who risked their lives to help the Jewish people during the Holocaust. Obviously one of the most famous of these is Oskar Schindler, but one that I read about was a woman doctor who would help the prisoners in the concentration camps stay healthy and avoid the dreaded "selections" that would send them to the gas chambers. She would do all she could to keep them alive, and even put rouge on their cheeks to make them look a little livelier when the soldiers came by. When a German captain asked, "Why are you helping them so much? Can't you see that you are different from the people here?", she boldly responded, "Yes, I am completely different from the people here, starting with you." She ultimately was sent to a concentration camp herself because of her compassion, and she survived. At the very end of the exhibits is a circular hall lined with bookshelves which hold the names of all the recorded victims of the Holocaust. It is an ongoing process, and the library is continually researching and adding names and records and photos. The Holocaust definitely became more personal to me after seeing this huge collection of names, the names of actual people who lead happy and normal lives, until suddenly they were captured and tortured and killed, all because of their religion and lifestyle and heritage. I definitely learned a lot more information and facts from the museum, but I think what I took away most from the visit was an appreciation for the individuals who suffered through the darkest part of the night, most to die, but some to live.

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